Whirlwind Bittersweet Weekend

by julie swanson

I was planning on spending the weekend in Cary, NC, watching the UVA women’s soccer team play in the ACC tournament there on Friday and then hopefully again on Sunday, but got a call Thursday morning with the sad news that my Uncle Gary had died, so I immediately tried to figure out how to get all the way up to Ontonagon, Michigan for his funeral. After much arranging, it all worked out; I was able to watch the Friday night game in Cary and then catch a flight out of Raleigh to Milwaukee, where I would drive 6 hours north with my brother to Ontonagon (Ontonagon is in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, on Lake Superior, way up north. Yes, it snowed.).

It was great to be able to be with family, many of whom I haven’t seen in a while. My Uncle Gary was my dad’s brother, the 4th out of the six Polakowski brothers. They were a tight bunch. Growing up I saw all those uncles and aunts and cousins (and that grandma) a couple times a year–at least. So we were quite a clan. My dad was the first to die (of the brothers; his dad was the first to die of their immediate family), and that was hard on all of us, and I know how much it meant to me to have all my cousins and aunts and uncles show up at his funeral, how comforting that was and how good it was to know that they loved him and considered him an important part of their lives. So when my Uncle Gary died, I really wanted to be there with everyone, not only to comfort my Aunt Karen and their kids in the way that they’d comforted us and shared our grief, but because I felt the need to be together with family myself, and also because I wanted to be there for my dad. It strikes me as odd that a person would actually want to put herself in a position to experience more grief and sadness than she would have to–I don’t pretend to understand that–but I did.

I was really glad I went. Only four of those uncles are left now, and it’s a sad thing to see them experience the shrinking of their band of brothers, but it’s also a wonderful reminder of the tight and loving bond between close family members. My Uncle Gary fought his cancer for 7 years, so I was not sad for him when he passed–he’s finally done suffering–but my heart goes out to my Aunt Karen and their four kids–Gary, Steve, Ed, Andrea–and all of their kids and all his friends and relatives who will miss him so. No matter how old a person is, no matter how they’ve suffered, it’s a sad thing to see the history of a person who we loved come to a sudden and screeching halt. It’s so final. The end of a chapter in our lives.

The weekend had many bright spots however, and not just the warmth of reuniting with relatives. Steve and his UVa team won both Friday and Sunday to capture the ACC women’s soccer championship. And I had a good and safe trip (the only glitch being that we circled in the air over Milwaukee for 40 minutes because Obama was on the runway about to take off; we finally had to land in Chicago to get more fuel, and then fly back to Milwaukee). I’m also glad the election is over–no more calls, ads, and political mailers–and even though I missed out on voting in the confusion of arranging a last-minute trip, the guy I wanted to win did.

I arrived home very thankful for everything–for my family, the safe trip, being home again, where we live. It never fails to hit me when I go away and come back and drive down the scenic roads from the airport to our house–Charlottesville, Virginia is a beautiful place to live and I love it here.